A ROYAL AFFAIR
DIRECTED BY Nikolaj Arcel
STARS Mads Mikkelsen, Alicia Vikander
Denmark's official entry in this year's Best Foreign Language Film race for Oscar gold, A Royal Affair features all the snug wigs and tight corsets one might expect to see in a movie centered around an 18th century monarch and his court. Presumably, those form-fitting clothing accessories are loose enough to allow the blood to flow, a condition it would share with this period saga that easily swats away any myopic claims of stately stuffiness by emerging as a passionate and hard-charging history lesson.
Apparently adhering to the actual facts more closely than anyone would have assumed, this starts with Caroline (Alicia Vikander), the sister of Britain's King George III, journeying to Denmark and marrying King Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard). It's not long before the newly minted Queen discovers that there's something not quite right with her husband's mental state. (Was he insane? Schizophrenic? Emotionally stunted? The film doesn't answer because history itself doesn't recall the cause.) Between his womanizing and his grotesque treatment of her, Caroline grows to loathe Christian, and she initially harbors ill will toward Johann Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen), the German physician who arrives on the scene to tend to his majesty. Over time, Struensee, a radical progressive, earns the complete trust of Christian and the heart of Caroline, a precarious position that provides ample fodder for the conservative politicians who don't agree with the good doctor's desires to, among other reforms, abolish serfdom, outlaw torture and (gasp!) impose taxes on the wealthy for the betterment of the lower classes.
Mikkelsen, known to art-house audiences for the Oscar-nominated After the Wedding and mainstream audiences for Casino Royale and Clash of the Titans, delivers a thoughtful performance as a decent man whose political naivety dooms him, while Vikander, memorable as Kitty in the current Anna Karenina, surpasses her work there with an aching, bruised turn as a woman trapped in an impossible situation. As for Folsgaard, he's superb in his feature-film debut as King Christian, already winning a hefty European award for a performance that was filmed while he reportedly was still attending college. In the immortal words of King Louis XVI — or was it Mel Brooks? — it's good to be the king.